The success of Brazilian Adventure set Fleming on a career as an international journalist and travel writer. In 1934, he would publish One’s Company, an account of his travels to China; News from Tartary, another book of his Asian travels, followed in 1936. He wrote reams of correspondence for the Times and other journals, and he turned to history later in life. But Brazilian Adventure, though his first book, remains his best. In it, he took a genre that was often stultifying and pedantic and infused it with grace and comedic understatement.

After Fleming came a flurry of better-written travel books. Evelyn Waugh, who gave Brazilian Adventure a positive if qualified review in the Spectator (“Mr. Fleming has a really exciting story to tell, but he almost spoils it by going to the extreme limits of deprecation in his anxiety to avoid the pretentious”), would soon publish his humorous account of his travels in Ethiopia. Robert Byron’s The Road to Oxiana would follow, too, as would Graham Greene’s Journey Without Maps and numerous other first-class works.

The critic Paul Fussell once described the 1920s and 1930s as a time when “a generation of bright young travelers set off from the British Isles to register anew, with all the cockiness of youth, the oddity and exoticism of the world outside.” In his day, Fleming was the most prominent and most influential of this pack. By propelling travel writing out of the dregs of romanticism and landing it firmly in the modern era, he offered a new way to approach the wider world. Brazilian Adventure should be relished for its drollery and anticlimactic charm. But it is also a document of the time when the era of exploration slid into the era of irony; when the world became smaller and somewhat less new, and bemusement—not amazement—became the standard way to meet it.

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Justin Peters is editor-at-large of the Columbia Journalism Review.